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5 tips for teaching a deaf child to swim

Swimming is a fun and vital skill to have in life. Whether you’re on a beach holiday, hanging out at a local pool or fishing alongside a river, knowing how to swim gives you the ability to fully enjoy a hot, summer day, as well as keep you safe.

I’m not just saying this because I’m a lifeguard, but because swimming is my passion. I even wrote a blog about it!  I see all these stories on the news about parents not taking their children to swimming lessons, or even the parents themselves not knowing how to swim, making them unable to pass down the skill.

When a child has hearing loss, dealing with water can be stressful for parents. How can a swim instructor teach a deaf child to swim when hearing aids can’t be worn in the pool?

Well, they can! As a deaf lifeguard, I’ve found there are ways to teach children with a hearing loss about how to be safe in the water. Deaf children can achieve anything given the right support. I always encourage children to learn to swim at a young age, because it gives them time to develop and become more confident.

If you’re a parent of a child with a hearing loss, and are interested in them having swimming lessons, or if you have hearing loss yourself and never learned to swim, here are some tips:

  1. Choose the right instructor Find a swimming class that’s not too big, or consider private lessons. This allows your child to get more attention from the instructor. If you can find a deaf aware swimming teacher- then brilliant, otherwise talk to the teacher beforehand to discuss options on the best ways to communicate with your child. (ie: facing them and talking clearly, or using visuals). Instructors who know how to deal with students with hearing loss can use alternative teaching methods before they enter the pool, such as using whiteboards for demonstrations, sign language and other visual tools to explain pool safety.  Let the child have some input too.
  2. Alert the lifeguards The lifeguards should also be aware of your child’s hearing abilities, so that in the case of an emergency where the deaf person isn’t responding to the whistles or shouting, the lifeguards know to wave or move so they are visually able to communicate with them.
  3. Be patient Part of my lifeguard job is being in the pool assisting children who might be intimidated in the water. It’s so amazing to see their development, from crying in fear on the first day, to swimming a full length of the pool a few sessions later. During my first lesson, I refused to get in the pool, as I had a fear of water, but my lovely swimming teacher managed to convince me, and today I’m still thankful to her that I can swim!
  4. Fuel confidence The key to swimming development is confidence. If the child can ‘blow bubbles’ to breathe properly, and they can put their face in the water, then that’s already a great step. People learning how to swim need confidence in the person teaching them – to reassure them that they’ll catch them if they go under, to hold their head up, and to hold their floats. Before you know it, they’ll be swimming like a fish!
  5. Safely store your hearing devices Invest in a watertight box to put your hearing devices in. The children can always give them to their parents to look after. Deaf people who swim quite frequently are at higher risk of getting ear infections. I always wear swimming ear moulds to stop the water entering my ears. Ask your audiologist if they can fit you with some!

If you have any concerns or experiences, please comment below, I’d love to hear them.


Untitled-2_roundEllen Parfitt, is an 19-year-old typical, but not ordinary, teenager. She was born profoundly deaf, but it hasn’t prevented her from achieving major accomplishments in her life, such as finishing her education, scoring an marketing apprenticeship, and working as a lifeguard, Avon Representative and Girlguide Leader. She is passionate about deaf awareness and campaigning. In her free time, she runs her jewelry and gifts business with her mum.

You can follow her here on Open Ears on a regular basis, or on her personal blog, Day in the Life of a Deafie and on Twitter @deafieblogger.


Author Details
Ellie was born profoundly deaf, uses verbal communication, lipreads and wears Phonak Sky Q hearing aids. She is currently learning British Sign Language. Ellie hasn’t let her disability stand in the way and embraces every new challenge. Her deafness didn’t prevent her from achieving major accomplishments in her life, such as excelling in her education, previously working as a Marketing Executive and now as an Events Coordinator for a deaf organization, as well as blogging for Hearing Like Me. She is passionate about deaf awareness, campaigning for equality and helping others through her personal blog as Deafie Blogger.